Though art market ups and downs are still on the minds of most, art itself is soldiering on at Toronto galleries like Monte Clark, O'Connor, and Goodwater. Read on here at the National Post for my column on what's up at these venues--including a new work by Venice Biennale '09er Mark Lewis. (Text is also after the jump.)
Image of Donald Woodman's The Selling of the West: Life Is Good from www.donaldwoodman.com
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Saturday, February 28, 2009
With the Canada Prize debate still simmering and art auction results running the gamut, it's reassuring to see art still soldiering on in galleries throughout the city. Fortify with Balzac's coffee and go see for yourself on an east-end art adventure.
MONTE CLARK GALLERY
55 Mill St., Bldg. 2
Recessions favour staycations over grand tours, which means that few Torontonians may be on hand at this summer's Venice Biennale to see Mark Lewis's much-anticipated Canuck pavilion display. But that doesn't mean one can't find a little piece of the Giardini in the Distillery this weekend, where a group show featuring one of Lewis's newest films closes at Monte Clark March 1. The Hamilton-born, U. K.-based Lewis is best known for his understated flicks that often challenge the ability of cinema to be understood as traditional art. This strategy is compellingly on view in The Cinema Museum, a 2008 project that shows the curator of a private London cinema museum giving a tour to Lewis's mute Steadicam. Dwarfed by towers of film canisters, rooms of filing cabinets and walls of old signage, the curator seems to embody both our cultural obsession with movies and our widespread disregard for the ageing technology that has nurtured it. What's offered up is both a place and a personality that evoke awe and apathy, stupendous-ness and stasis -- much in the way that viewers are rendered immobile by a darkened theatre's flickering images. Smart composite prints by L. A.'s Brandon Lattu also provide delightful food for thought.
145 Berkeley St.
Changes have been afoot this year at O'Connor Gallery. Long-time owner Dennis O'Connor decided to sell the business after a 13-year run. Then five-year staffer Geoffrey Person put in an offer and took over the reins. Since November, Person has put his own stamp on the enterprise by clearing out cases of Inuit sculpture on the lower level, providing a second gallery space to accompany the one on the upper floor. Until March 15, both spaces are occupied by husband-and-wife team Judy Chicago and Donald Wood-man. Woodman's compelling photos of western U.S. land development read as a sassier, more signage-oriented Edward Burtynsky, while Chicago's highlight is silkscreens on birth and family from the mid-1980s. Person says more changes can be expected when he sketches out 2010's exhibition schedule -- but until then he's anticipating a Contact show by JJ Levine, a young Montrealer known for co-founding a lesbian hair salon-cum-bike repair shop in the city's gay village.
234 Queen St. E.
Passersby might be forgiven for thinking not much is going on right now at Goodwater. After all, the current exhibition by local artist Nestor Kruger is so minimalist as to seem almost non-existent. What Kruger has done is stanch structural holes (heat-vent hollows and the like) in gallery floors and walls with precisely cut pieces of plywood. Many pieces end at roughly knee-height, like a moving box, causing a subtle double take. Closer to eye-level, a black plastic tube punctures the rear wall and spears glossy, black-painted gallery brochures into a kind of severe neoconceptualist blossom. Stunning it's not, but Kruger's experimental spirit paves the way for a couple of must-check-out shows to come: first an exhibit by Sobey Award winner Tim Lee that compiles all his art-process mistakes (tinges of prizewinner guilt, anyone?) and then a show by fellow Vancouverite Elizabeth McIntosh that promises to display her largest painting to date. McIntosh's abstract canvases are a treat at almost any size, so this could be a real head-spinner.
Saturday, February 28, 2009
Friday, February 27, 2009
Oh, there's such a big difference between talking and writing. For serious. But I'm glad I get to dust out my much unused talking skills (or talking-in-public skills) with a couple of events this week. Please join me if you would like to hear what my shrunken vocal chords think of things like American Gothic and community arts.
Tomorrow at the Reel Artists Film Festival (a production of the Canadian Art Foundation, publisher of Canadian Art mag, where I work p/t), I get to introduce a new doc on David Lynch and a recent one on Basquiat. The Lynch film profiles the setup of an art exhibition by Lynch in Milan, and is directed by Marina Zenovich, nominee for the Sundance Jury Prize for Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. The Basquiat film revisits a little-known 1987 interview by director Tamra Davis and colleague Becky Johnstone. Both movies kick off at 7pm at the Al Green Theatre, 750 Spadina Ave.
Then on Friday I speak at a panel for the conference "Encounters in the Socialverse: Community and Collaborative Art Practices" at York University. Fellow panellists include Carole Boughannam, City of Toronto Event Programming Manager; Andrew Hunter, Curator, Render Gallery and Darren O’Donnell, Artistic Director of Mammalian Diving Reflex. The panel happens at 3pm at Atkinson College, 4700 Keele, and there are interesting presentations running all day.
Image from Medline Plus
Thursday, February 26, 2009
A few months ago I posted a video about a group show on art education at InterAccess. More recently, InterAccess has made a couple of videos from a related panel session available online. The panel, which I attended, was quite disparate in nature, with each panellist presenting their own personal perspective on art academia. To me, this worked, actually. If it does for you too, you might want to check out this vid from University of Manitoba prof Sharon Alward—who encountered crazy amounts of sexism and harrassment as a prof for many years, unfortunately not all detailed in this video—and this one from OCAD prof Rosemary Donegan, who speaks to the differences between art colleges and university art departments.
As a sidenote, Marc Mayer, new director of the National Gallery of Canada, told me today that one of the things he worries about is not enough young men being interested in art anymore, and that the study of art is in a way becoming too much of a feminine domain. All due respect to Mayer, the real intrigue remains for me as to why art history classes are dominated by women but art museum directorships (and other key leadership positions) continue to be dominated by men. Gender subjectivity redux!
A couple of things I've been working on that are out today:
A Q&A with Toronto artist Shary Boyle on her upcoming show at Jessica Bradley Art & Projects. I visited with Boyle in her studio for this and I have great anticipation for the finished work. It's one of those times you wish photos were available sooner but also kind of not, in order to keep the aspect of surprise for self and others. Published in the National Post today, with text after the jump too. [UPDATE: The hard copy of the Post ran one of Shary's images, White Fright, upside down. Great apologies to the artist; a correction ran today.]
A review of Montreal artist Patrick Bernatchez's first show in Toronto. With this one I have to say I struggled with having been impressed with Bernatchez's 2008 show at Skol in his hometown, and less wowed with this presentation, which focuses exclusively on video. (I also might live to regret my Prozac reference, but such is life.) Out today in NOW.
Image of Shary Boyle's porcelain Bat 4 from Jessica Bradley Art & Projects
Monkeys seen, monkeys done
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Thursday, February 26, 2009
Though she often identifies with the underdog, Toronto artist Shary Boyle is one of Canada's major creative mavericks. Whether she's sculpting delicate porcelain spiders, drawing heartrending comics or creating movie magic on overhead projectors, Boyle impresses with a trademark insightful insanity. Now, as her newest show opens in Toronto, Boyle tells Leah Sandals why she gives her underworld the upper hand.
Q Your imagery can seem quite surreal. What inspires you?
A I have a pretty intuitive process, and often I'm not quite sure where my images are going until after the fact. Images sometimes come to me when I just wake up. Sometimes they come when I'm thinking about a certain subject, whether it's an emotion, a situation in a relationship or an observation about humanity or family or sexuality or gender. My mind processes that by creating an image that expresses my feelings non-verbally --but also much more accurately, more holistically.
Particular things can inspire, too. I was walking through Kensington Market recently and someone had thrown out a whole box of National Geographic animal encyclopedias from the '70s. I'm really interested in primatology and anthropology, so looking at those exquisite photographs inspired a whole bunch of imagery around monkeys. Musician Bonnie Prince Billy asked me to do some tour T-shirts recently, and they ended up all being monkey-based because of that.
Q What are you showing in this new Toronto exhibition?
A It's a range of work, from two years ago to the present. It all somehow revolves around the idea of the cave. The cave can be a dark, ancient kind of place you find shelter in, or it's a place you can be trapped in, and meet something really terrifying. It usually signifies fear, but it can also symbolize warmth and safety. For instance, there's these little portraits I made of chandeliers on really black paper, and they have a glowing light, almost like a firelight.
Q I've seen you focusing on bats recently. Does that relate?
A Yes. Over the past year I've been doing a lot of research around bats, because some kind of disease has been im-pacting bat colonies on the east coast of America. Thousands have died and scientists are really perturbed. Bats have also always been really fascinating and beautiful to me, but so misunderstood and repulsive to most people. There's so many varieties and their faces are almost like orchids, which I also love. They have that same kind of random and symmetrical intricacy.
Q In the past, some of your art has focused on feelings of shame. Do you ever worry you might run out of that driving force as you work through it in your art?
A No ... no worries there! As with any artist who deals with difficult subjects sourced in trauma or pain or embarrassment, I have to think, "Well, am I cultivating those feelings to continue my practice and I'll never be able to get out of it?" But I'm still interested in being human first and that means evolving and developing. Still, I also feel I have a duty to talk about things that are difficult or uncomfortable or come from pain, because that's so repressed in our culture.
Q You've sometimes depicted women who are consumed by their clothing. Is the status of women a conscious concern for you?
A I'm hyperconscious of female identity, of female roles, of expectations or assumptions about women. A major point of my work is to try to explore that and present contradictions or hypocrisy that I don't feel is being addressed in other forms of media. I'm trying to build something so young women in particular will have another model of experience to look at that reflects them better.
Q What's next for you?
A Well, speaking of that very subject, I'm presenting a paper at the Jane Doe Conference at the University of Ottawa on March 7. Jane Doe was the activist and feminist who took on the Toronto police department to change legislation on sexual assault in Canada. I was invited because I did the illustrations for the Jane Doe book that came out about five years ago.
After that I'm going to Switzerland for Fumetto, an incredible festival of comic and alternative arts ... It's going to be a pretty big project, and I'm really excited.
Shary Boyle's newest exhibition opens Saturday at Toronto's Jessica Bradley Art & Projects ( jessicabradleyartprojects.com).
Thursday, February 19, 2009
It's a sad irony of Canadian geography that I've just been to Madrid, but haven't checked out Vancouver in person for more than 10 years. So I'm feel the shame, national-unity-wise. But I'm still very interested in what's happening out west.
So I was excited to talk with Vancouver Art Gallery curator Kathleen Ritter on the phone last week. She organized the VAG's just-opened "How Soon Is Now," a survey of artmaking in the BC region. The National Post ran our condensed convo today. Click here or read on after the jump for the goods.
Painting by Noah Becker from National Post
Questions & Artists: West Coast represent!
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Wednesday, February 18, 2009 (Online) - Thursday Feb 19 in print
Last week, events nationwide marked a one-year countdown to the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. But as a new survey exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery shows, there's already plenty to celebrate about British Columbia. Here, curator Kathleen Ritter tells Leah Sandals about How Soon is Now, a key event in the province's ongoing cultural olympiad.
Q This exhibition features 34 B.C. artists. What excites you about the West Coast scene right now?
A There's an incredible diversity of work being produced. So what excited me about putting together this exhibition was seeing how a range of artists could speak to each other. There's no one theme, but there's a sense of recurring motifs, like the architectural space of the gallery, of music, of the unexpected.
Q There's a sound work on a boat outside, a star taped to the foyer floor, toilet-paper drawings installed in washrooms. Why such variation?
A For research, I talked to a number of art professionals through the province and did 120 studio visits. And one of the interesting conversations that came out of all this was that a number of artists are moving away from standard interaction with the art object. Rather than standing away from a painting and appreciating its beauty, there's interest in creating a whole interaction with the work of art and challenging the gallery space.
So the Bomfords, a father and sons team from Bowen Island, have created a huge installation that goes from the second floor all the way up to the third floor. They use recycled wood that they find around where they live, and you can actually climb up and move around in their structures.
Vancouver artist Mark Soo has done an incredibly subtle work called Second Hand Story. As you walk through the gallery you may or may not hear the sounds of a low frequency bass - a sound like a neighbour having a party, or of a protest. That's interested in challenging the authority of the gallery as the place for art, creating a sense that things are happening elsewhere.
Another artist who's done that is Holly Ward. Her project, called Island, is a large pile of soil that gets moved around the gallery during the exhibition. Part of her interest is community, so she has a group moving the sculpture. It's playful, because curators usually place sculptures carefully, something we can't control here.
Q Sounds fun, but there's a very noticeable lack of big B.C. names like Jeff Wall, Roy Arden, Tim Lee, and Rebecca Belmore. Why?
A Well, almost all of these artists have been represented in recent exhibitions here. So we wanted to show new works that would give insight into different aspects of art production from this place.
Q Many viewers will compare this show to the Quebec Triennial, another regional art survey that happened recently. What's your take on that?
A Well, I would say that the Vancouver Art Gallery has a strong and continuing program of solo exhibitions by B.C. artists, as well as a long history of doing group shows like this one, like 1996's Topographies. This is part of that tradition. And this exhibition doesn't try to represent every single part of art production in B.C., so it's not like a triennial. Rather, I would say it tries to focus on a work that is new and unexpected.
Q A few of this show's artists, like Kara Uzelman and Hadley & Maxwell, are actually living in Berlin. What makes them B.C. artists?
A I think artists today travel quite a bit and do residencies in other places. So Hadley and Maxwell are based in Vancouver, but they're doing a residency in Berlin. The community itself if quite mobile but many still consider themselves to be B.C. artists.
I also think ideas of community are more complex than they seem. Artist Brendan Tang combines Ming dynasty vases with manga figurines. He was born in Ireland, his parents are from Trinidad of Chinese and East Indian origin, and he's working out of Kamloops. And he's a B.C. artist.
Q This show could be considered an opportunity to promote Canadian art. What's your take on a different kind of promotional effort, the controversial and recently announced Canada Prize?
A I don't know how much that relates to this exhibition. I'd hate to compare different kinds of arts funding, and I'd say any money put towards the arts is good in this economic climate.
-How Soon Is Now continues to May 3 at the Vancouver Art Gallery (vanartgallery.bc.ca).
Monday, February 16, 2009
Still sorting through ARCO Madrid images and thought I'd pull out a few I enjoyed, created by Venice Biennalers old and new:
1. 1999 Venice exhibitor Thomas Hirschhorn's Dancing Philosophy is a
2007 2002? work, so I'm sure this isn't a new find to those in the global artster scene. But ARCO was the first time I'd seen it. As the video above shows, the work consists of a few different video monitors that show the artist dancing behind a mannequin. Each set is accompanied by spraypainted phrases like "How to Dance Gramsci?" or "How to Dance Deleuze?" I really liked the ridiculous, lowbrow conflation of body and mind--as frequent readers of this blog might know, the general presence of bright colours and dancing.
Dancing Philosophy was part of a large ARCO installation of Madrid collector and gallerist Helga de Alvear's own collection. The word is that Alvear will soon be exhibiting the collection in a new museum-type institution near Madrid. I think this would be great, as it was clear that Alvaer's collection is super solid and it would be terrific to have more access to it.
Over at Alvear's own commercial gallery, near the Prado in Madrid, there was a very different must-see work on view: Santiago Serra's Los Penetrados. Ever the provacateur, Mexico's Serra here combines pairs of black men, white men, black women and white women to sexually penetrate each other in groups of up to 10 couples. The work was made on October 12, the national day of Spain once known as Dia de la Raza (Day of the Race). I'm still not sure about it. But it is a definite continuation of Serra's investigations into exploitation between classes, genders, races and other social groups (viewer/artist/performer included).
2. Vienna artist Elke Krystufek's detailed, text-heavy paintings are appealing in many ways. For one, the titles--as for "Paulo Coelho & Jonathan Meese: An Unholy Couple," pictured above--can be very funny.
Her texts also provide a strange stream of consciousness touching on issues of gender and art history in unexpected, often absurd ways: "Is a Vagina a good form? Vaginas do not interest us - we get more inspired by Nature or city palnning: cities for men: the urban men ... Feminist are of insect nature: they survive the hu"man" race. Huwomen. Huwos. The men are gone. Eva Hesse had assistants. Who knew the secrets of Eva Hesse's penislike forms & fragile skins. Even Godard had a skin problem when shooting. Shooting harms the skins."
Needless to say, Krystufek, who is exhibiting at this summer's Venice Biennale with fellow Austrians Dorit Margreiter and Lois & Franziska Weinberger, questions gender specific behavior in her work. But she's not a hard-and-fast feminist. As she says of a recent film project, "Porn is already very ridiculous but one cannot top the unplanned humor in feminism." She's repped by Galerie Barbara Thumm in Berlin.
3. A nice surprise success at ARCO was Amaya Gonzalez Reyes's solo project, one of 35 at the fair. The young Reyes hasn't been selected for any biennales yet, but I have a hunch if she keeps it up she could find herself a spot. In her ARCO work, Reyes copied a few months of her receipts onto plain white canvases, one canvas for each receipt. Then she sold each canvas for the amount listed on that receipt. This meant each of her works ranged from around 2 euros to 250 euros--a bargain at almost any fair, and one that buyers dug into with a vengeance. There were piles of them when the fair started, and only a few dozen left by day 2. To boot, the works even look kind of nice.
Reyes, born 1979 in the Galacia region of Spain, is repped by Madrid gallery Pilar Parra & Romero, and her work was curated for the solo projects space by Colin Chinnery, the new curator for ShContemporary in China.
Saturday, February 14, 2009
Just got a note that Montreal-based artist Rafael Lozano Hemmer will be lecturing at the University of Waterloo on Thursday, March 12 at 7 p.m. It's co-sponsored by CAFKA, which is going to have Lozano Hemmer included in its fall 09 edition. Good on CAFKA for getting this guy. He's just becoming bigger and bigger all the time. The photo above shows his work from Pulse in Madison Square Park in spring 2008.
Also, despite a paucity of Canadian artists seen at ARCO in Madrid, Lozano Hemmer had a work showing at Haunch of Venison's booth. It's in part controversial that Haunch of Venison is even here, owned as they are by auction house Christie's rather than a dealer. (I've been told Haunch is banned from Frieze for this reason.) But their booth is definitely a popular one and I'm sure many are seeing the work.
All this also relates to a discussion I recently commented on over at View on Canadian Art. We were discussing whether the newly announced $25-mil-fed-cash-infused Canada Prize for the Arts really is a good thing for Canada, and whether it will offset the gov's sudden obliteration of hugely important gallery travel and trade programs in Summer 2008. From what I've seen in Madrid, very little Canadian art is recognized or represented. I will present a full list from my notes in a later post, but it's really a handful-- Royal Art Lodge, Rita McBride, maybe a couple others.
Also, part of the difficulty is that when Canadian artists exhibit here, they are identified by the country of their birth rather than the country of their residence. At a museum show in Madrid, Jana Sterbak was identified as Czech, with no mention of Canada, even though she repped us at the Venice Biennale in 2003. Lozano Hemmer, for his part, repped Mexico at Venice even though we in Canada try to claim him as one of our own.
Art is increasingly a migratory endeavour, so maybe this is just par for the course internationally. But it is interesting to me that Canada has no immediate--or positive--connotations here except for maybe Quebec, as in "Oh Toronto? I know some French Canadian collector/artist/gallery." This in itself is evidence that it could be fruitful for the feds to follow Quebec's longstanding travel and promotion programs it it is serious about making Canada an internationally known art name.
Image of Lozano Hemmer's Pulse Park 2008 from his website
Friday, February 13, 2009
Time is strange right now, as I'm at an art fair in Madrid. So I'm late posting this interview of Judy Chicago from yesterday's National Post. Click here or read on after the jump for the goods.
Also on a slightly feminist note: my review of Peepshow #5 in NOW, also out yesterday.
Chicago in Toronto
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Thursday, February 12, 2009
This weekend, Valentine's Day will heat up the hearts and loins of many. As fun and frothy as romance can be, it's also compatible, for some, with rigorous critiques of gender roles. At least, that's what iconic feminist artist -- and ardent V-day fan-- Judy Chicago has shown through her 40-year career. Now, with three exhibitions opening in Toronto this week, the artist talks to Leah Sandals about embroidery, dinner parties and ruling the world.
Q This week at the Textile Museum, you're debuting a new artwork called What if Women Ruled the World. How did that develop?
A That grew out of a recent project in China. I was invited to work in an isolated region hosting one of the only matriarchal societies in the world. And I invited Chinese women artists to think with me about women ruling the world. We did exhibitions and performances, and I did interviews and banners asking related questions. When I came back to the United States I chose two of the six banners to be woven by Audrey Cowan, my longtime textiles collaborator.
Q How does that particular woman-led culture operate?
A Well, they don't have marriage, or they only have it when national government requires it. Key to their tradition is "the visit," where certain rooms are set aside for conjugual relations. If a woman finds a partner not satisfactory, she leaves the door of the room closed the following night --perhaps with some small item of clothing or footwear, emphasis on the "small."
It was also interesting to me that the Chinese artists I worked with weren't able to imagine a world in which male dominance wasn't prevalent. In terms of my own goals for a more egalitarian world, I believe if there were more women in power we would see a reordering of priorities.
Q Yet in one of your recent pieces on Mary, Queen of Scots, you write, "all humans [women included] are capable of cruelty and inhumanity." How do you resolve that with your belief that more women in power would generate a better world?
A What I've come to understand is we all have the capacity for cruel or inhumane treatment, but we all have a choice. Research has shown that when women make money they spend on family and when men make money they spend on themselves. I think it says something about women, whether it's biological or cultural.
Q The Textile Museum is also showing some younger feminist artists alongside you. What do you think of the new generation?
A Through the Flower --my nonprofit, 30-year-old feminist art organization--did a juried show recently for feminist artists under 40.
On the one hand, it was great. There was some wonderful work and a lot of younger women have more freedom to express themselves than when I was young.
On the other hand, young women are still being raised without a sense of their history as women. As a result, we're about to launch a Kthrough-12 curriculum for the Dinner Party [my major feminist work from the 1970s]. This is meant to help bridge that knowledge gap.
Q Some of your most innovative art, like Fragments from the Delta of Venus, has presented female sexuality as vibrant and active. These images came to mind last month while I was reading a feature in The New York Times Magazine suggesting that women get off on passivity. What's your take?
A Well, I thought one of the most interesting things in that article was in the conclusion --namely, that the researchers had come to observe that because of society's view that female sexuality is dangerous, it's almost impossible to know what unfettered female sexuality is like. Whereas male sexuality has not been viewed that way very often, so men have a more direct relationship to their sex drive.
Q On a related, and more romantic, note, Valentine's Day is coming up. You've been married to your husband for several years, and the heart symbol recurs often in your artworks. What does "feminist" romance mean to you?
A Well, I think it would have to do with a partnership that is egalitarian, where the partners are free to be themselves as individuals rather than who they are based on gender.
And, personally speaking, I usually don't spend Valentine's Day in Toronto! But I've packed away some cards for my husband that he hasn't seen in my suitcase. We're pretty romantic that way.
Judy Chicago's artworks open this week at three Toronto venues: the Textile Museum, Rouge Contemporary and O'Connor Gallery. For more information seetextilemuseum.ca and rougecontemporary.com.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
So today was ARCO press preview day, and it basically hit me over the head and stunned me. There is a lot of good work here. It feels a bit "eewwwww" to say something like that on a junket, but I'm for reals. I'm trying to process it all (as well as finish taking it all in) but I thought it would be fun to post a video I took:
It's of NY-based Lithuanian artist Zilvinas Kempinas's installation "Double O". Really delightful. That's loops of video tape floating in the middle. He's going to represent Lithuania at the 2009 Venice Biennale. Brought to the fair by Vilnius's Gallery Vartai.
Also, you knew it had to happen... Hirst Hirsted by Spanish artist Eugenio Merino:
Merino calls it "4 the Love of Go(l)d". He's repped by Barcelona's ADN Galeria.
Okay. My brain is full. Away!
Friday, February 6, 2009
It's been web-eons since I posted--thanks to grant applications, trip prep and general disorganization--so here's some catchup links:
A Q&A in today's National Post with Claude Tousignant, Canada's own Barnett Newman-esque painting maverick
A short piece on the closest-to-God gallery in Toronto- the Bank of Montreal project room on the 68th floor of a downtown office tower. From last Saturday's National Post
A few west-end gallery picks (with a shout out to new kids in the area) from last Saturday's National Post.
Click or read on after the jump for full text of all articles.
Image of Gong 64, 1966 by Claude Tousignant and from Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Friday, February 06, 2009
Last week, the federal government promised $25-million for the Canada Prize, a new international art award. But between now and 2010, when the award is slated to roll, there's still plenty of domestic artistic achievement worth recognizing. This week, for instance, the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art is paying homage to iconic Quebecer Claude Tousignant, opening a 50-year, 100-work retrospective. Here, Tousignant tells Leah Sandals about his own prized memories on abstraction, science, music and more.
Q I've read that the only classes you liked in elementary school were drawing and geometry. Is this true?
A Yeah, that's quite true. We used to have drawing class on Friday afternoon, the last class of the week. I waited for that. And geometry was my forte. That was at Ecole Jean Talon in the Villeray area of Montreal; the school is now condos.
Q What inspires you now? Is it still the same things?
A Well, it's a long process, you know. As I say often, one painting brings the other, sort of by reflecting about it. You always feel that the next painting will be better or more interesting, so the inspiration is self-inspiration if you get right to it.
Right from the beginning at art school, I was interested in abstraction. And we had a very good teacher, Gordon Webber. He was one of the first abstract painters in Canada and he came from the Chicago Institute of Technology, which had many teachers that came from the Bauhaus. So I'ma bit in this tradition.
Q Most of your paintings have very sharp, hard edges. Why do you love this precise style?
A I find that if I don't use a hard edge, the form is not complete -- it's not crisp, it's not efficient.
Q Why, then, in the '60s did you make some softer, fuzzier works?
A That was a sort of reaction to too much hard edge at the time. I'd made a series of sculptures in wood, and at a certain point I got really fed up building those. I think I needed loosening a bit, and that's how this period came.
Q You're best known for painting, but as you said, you do work in sculpture as well. What does sculpture give you that painting doesn't?
A Well, I thought sculpture needed a bit of working out. I think sculpture is usually more inclined to put the accent on the object itself. And I thought the space and light should also be considered in sculpture; that's what makes sculpture interesting. Also, light itself is a physical experience -- we feel light in everyday life, so sculpture can also reflect that.
Q Your large circular paintings are often titled Gong. Do sounds inspire your work?
A Sound doesn't so much inspire the artwork. But the titles, yes. When I started titling these I was reading Edgar Varese, a French musician who lived in New York. He wrote a lot about different musical instruments, and what he commented about the gong impressed me very much. I saw a similarity with my painting at the time in the way the sound develops -- it expands and comes back to the centre. I don't remember his words exactly. But that's why I call them gongs.
Q It seems that more emerging artists are taking up painting. Would you agree?
A Yes, I think there's quite a few young people doing painting, and there are more painters now than there was five or 10 years ago. I think it's because electronic media is so widespread now, and young people think that they should do something else.
Q If you weren't an artist, what would you be?
A I was interested in science -- physics in particular. I would have oriented that way. Who knows, maybe I could have been a good scientist!
Claude Tousignant: A Retrospective continues to April 26 at the Montreal Museum of Contemporary Art. For details, visit macm.org.
Art above money
The new BMO Project Room is a contemporary gallery located above 67 floors of commerce
Leah Sandals, Weekend Post
Published: Saturday, January 31, 2009
Toronto's galleries --from Yorkville to Queen West to Ossington and beyond-- are typically housed in converted storefronts. Montreal may have its lofts and New York its pier-side warehouses, but in Toronto old grocery stores and tailor shops are usually where the action is.
But last Thursday in the heart of downtown, a gallery opened quite far from the sidewalk's bustle -- 68 stories away, to be exact.
That new gallery is the BMO Project Room, a compact space on the 68th floor of company headquarters at 100 King St. W. Initiated by the bank's Art and Archives Committee, and led by the BMO corporate art collection's curator, Dawn Cain, the Project Room is designed to showcase temporary works by contemporary Canadian artists.
Opening the space is Adad Hannah's All is Vanity (Mirrorless Version), a video and sculpture installation that smartly re-enacts a popular 19th-century drawing.
"I'd had this idea for a while," says Hannah over the phone from his Montreal home. "But I realized I didn't have the right kind of venue for it. So I put it on hold until BMO approached me at the beginning of the summer."
Some of Hannah's artwork--like the single-channel video Tribute, which plays on a flatscreen in the art-covered hallways of the 68th floor -- was already in the BMO collection. But to the artist, this new space is different.
"It's really unique," says Hannah. "They support the project financially, but in the end the work goes back to the artist. Also the piece fits really nicely in that space, which is always a concern with installations."
That said, part of the appeal of visiting the project room is viewing all those hallway-hung artworks from BMO's permanent collection. Those range from a large, rough-hewn Paterson Ewen painting to a delicate cut-paper piece by Ed Pien.
In the adjoining meeting rooms, aesthetic themes emerge. A books-focused room features photographs of midair tomes by Allyson Clay, while a more environment-centred room shows Sarah Anne Johnson's award-winning images of tree-planters at work.
And in a waiting-room foyer, one of John Hartman's large aerial-view paintings of Toronto's downtown hangs adjacent to windows offering a similar vantage point. Here, if the art fails to thrill, the views certainly won't. - All is Vanity runs to Nov. 30, 2009. The BMO Project Room can be viewed by appointment, Thursdays 12 to 4 p. m. Contact Dawn Cain at 416-867-5290 to arrange a viewing.
Reclaim, reuse, reinvent
Leah Sandals, National Post
Published: Saturday, January 31, 2009
The last weekend of January offers a perennial hope that winter months are fading and spring is on its way. If that's not enough hope for you, take heart in the Queen West art scene, where there are always new beginnings afoot. This winter, three new galleries have opened in the nabe -- Silver Falls at 15 Ossington Ave., Alison Smith at 1410 Dundas St. W. and Median at 1142 Queen St. W. Even better, each is just steps away from seasoned spaces offering fresh works to jump-start 2009's renewal.
1. Gallery TPW
56 Ossington Ave.
Toronto's Jon McCurley fancies himself adept at both high-concept comedy and lo-ficontemporary art. And he just might be right. For Double Double Land Land, his current show at Gallery TPW, McCurley packed in a standing-room-only crowd for an experimental opening-night theatre performance and left behind a stack of absurd, ridiculously labelled sculptures to boot. Take, for instance, Meditation Stairs, which progress awkwardly in three-steps-up, and two-steps-down increments. Or Vase that's the size of the whole table, a massive handmade clay concoction from which a single flower pathetically emerges. Or 24/7 Dresser, an everyday piece of bedroom furniture that stays open all night. Whichever of these pieces tickles your fancy --or falls flat, as Helen Keller Suit might -- McCurley's low-rent riffs on high art are refreshing. While you're there: Check out Silver Falls across the street, where musician and artist Andre Ethier's psychedelic paintings pop eyeballs and brain cells.
Jessica Bradley Art & Projects
1450 Dundas St. W.
Long before Montrealer Adrian Norvid won raves at 2008's Quebec Triennial with his spooky-sad, R. Crumb-influenced drawings, he earned a music degree from York University. And Norvid's hardly left those old passions behind. Now he leans on the symbols and sentiments of '70s guitar rock to create large-scale drawings on view at dealer Jessica Bradley's space. Most awesome is Norvid's dense, six-foot-tall black-and-white homage to a guitar pick, titled No Brainer. Whether here or in 40 sucks, a large drawing of what seems like ageing male hair-metallists, there's tension between glory and guilty pleasure, between delectation and disgust. That, in addition to the LP-era kitsch, is what makes Norvid's work compelling. Complementing this mood are colourful, dynamic drawings and paintings by local artist Jason McLean. McLean's ability to combine myriad line, hue and text in ecstatic-yet-diagrammatic ways has a strong appeal both in its own right and as an effect when layered on vintage postcards. But it's the measured addition of sometimes-depressing diaristic comments that makes McLean's work mesh here. While you're there: Head one block east to newbie Alison Smith Gallery, whose second show features works from Nova Scotia stone carver Vanessa Paschakarnis.
3. Gladstone Hotel
1214 Queen St. W., 3rd & 4th floors
The economy is causing many of us to think small. But as dealer Katharine Mulherin shows in Wish You Were Here, an off-site exhibition of postcard-sized works, small can also be beautiful, provocative, funny and smart. Lauren Bride's index cards of emotional calculus offer one geek-chic highlight, while multiple-maker extraordinaire Sandy Plotnikoff reclaims foreign postcards for Toronto purposes by embossing them with gold labels. On a more serious note is Lisa Deanne Smith's grouping of postcard responses related to 9/11, as well as Germaine Koh's transformation of found photographs into mass-mailout formats. With over 50 artists, it's definitely worth a browse. While you're there: Swing over to Median Contemporary, which offers unusual resin wall works and sculptures by Rui Pimenta and Kal Mansur.